Losing a loved one is extremely painful and difficult to accept – especially when that loss is directly attributable to someone else's negligence.
Under the law, a “wrongful death” is a death which is caused by a wrongful act, negligence, omission, or default of another.
California law allows family members to financially recover losses that were caused by a wrongful death.
While no amount of money can change the past and bring your loved one back, a successful wrongful death claim can certainly help you feel that justice has been done and address any financial issues that are associated with your loss.
However, recovering losses is not as simple as saying you believe you deserve compensation. California state law and the courts have strict procedures that must be followed and legal burdens of proof that must be met before the other party can be held liable for wrongful death.
In order to prove a wrongful death, you have to have facts to prove certain legal elements.
For example, you must be able to prove with facts the death occurred due to another party's wrongful or negligent act. This means having enough evidence to meet the required burden of proof.
You are not required to prove a wrongful death case beyond a reasonable doubt like in a criminal case. Instead, you only have to prove that it was 51% likely the death was wrongful. This is commonly known as the preponderance of the evidence.
At Injury Justice Law Firm, LLP, we understand the legal terms can be confusing and how important it is people who have lost loved ones through tragedy to feel a sense of closure.
Our personal injury lawyers provide compassionate, aggressive, and goal-oriented counsel and representation and have the experience required to bring your case to a successful outcome.
Complexities Associated with Wrongful Death Cases
Wrongful death cases are generally more complex than other types of personal injury cases.
For starters, a wrongful death claim is typically brought by the personal representative of a decedent's estate and is filed against the person or entity who caused the decedent's death.
In the State of California, a wrongful death case may be brought on behalf of the wife, husband, child, or children of the decedent.
If there is no wife, husband, or child, a wrongful death action may be maintained for the benefit of the parents, sisters, or brothers of the decedent who may have been dependent upon the decedent for support.
Additionally, if your family member's wrongful death was caused by negligence, you must be able to satisfy all the certain legal elements of negligence.
These elements include that the liable party had a duty of care to the victim; they breached the duty of care in some way; the breach caused the accident leading to the death; and the wrongful death resulted in losses to you.
A duty of care will vary depending on the specific type of accident. Some wrongful death cases are not caused by negligence, but from intentional violence. In these type cases, the legal elements to prove an intentional act include that the person intended to commit the act; they made contact with the victim; and the contact caused fatal results.
Common Causes of Wrongful Death in California
There are many accidents that have the potential to be fatal. Some of the most common causes of wrongful death include the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Slip and falls
- Negligent supervision
- Medical malpractice
- Defective or malfunctioning products
- Defective or malfunctioning medical devices
- Defective drugs
- Criminal acts
Proving a Wrongful Death Case
Wrongful death cases that arise from accidents (as opposed to intentional acts) in California are governed by negligence law. It's important to note again, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the decedent was owed a duty and that the defendant breached this duty, legally and proximately resulting in the decedent's death.
One of the biggest difficulties in proving a wrongful death case is that the accident victim is obviously deceased, and therefore, is not available to testify at a deposition or trial. In order to prove wrongful death, the following types of evidence are helpful:
- Testimony of eyewitnesses to the accident
- Testimony of family members, coworkers, or friends of the decedent
- Expert testimony of an accident reconstructionist who can prove that the accident resulted in the decedent's death
- Expert testimony of medical providers
- Documentary evidence of funeral expenses and other costs associated with the decedent's death
If it can be proven the death was caused by a negligent or a wrong act of another party, the next step is to prove you sustained damages as a result of the loss.
Common damages sought after in a California wrong death case include the cost of the funeral and burial; loss of financial support; loss of future income; loss of household services; and loss of victim's love and support.
Remember, Many Wrongful Death Cases Are Settled Out of Court
While it may be necessary to prove negligence in some wrongful death cases, it is important to keep in mind that many cases are settled well before either side sees the inside of a Los Angeles courtroom.
For example, in a wrongful death case arising from a drunk driving accident in which only the defendant was drunk, it is unlikely that the defense would serious contest legal liability. As a result, the only issue that would still need to be resolved is how much the at-fault party (or their insurance) will pay the victim.
If your case seems like it is going settle without you needing to prove negligence, you may be questioning whether you really need to retain an attorney. While there is no law requiring you to do so, it is helpful to keep in mind that a lawyer can have a significant impact on the way that your case is resolved. For this reason, it is highly advisable for anyone who thinks they have a case arising from an accident resulting in the loss of a loved one to speak to a lawyer immediately.
If a family member has died as a result of someone else's negligence, and a personal representative has been appointed, you may be able to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the decedent's estate.
Our compassionate attorneys can help you resolve your wrongful death case in a way that an adequately compensates you for all of the losses you have experienced.
To schedule a free consultation, please call our law office at 310-734-7974 or contact us online.